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February 05, 2009

The Good News and the Bad News on Iraqi Elections
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So the good news was really in the South where Maliki and his allies did very well.  Even more important was the fact that ISCI, long considered one of the dominant parties in the South and one with religious platform that is also based on devolving power away from the central government, got creamed.  They are now essentially a 10% party in the South while Maliki dominated.  As Reider Visser explains:

One is that they to some extent mark a rejection of sectarian identity politics... Maliki tried to emphasise Iraqi nationalism; ISCI tried to emphasise sectarian Shiism. Maliki won. Secondly, the results clearly signify the triumph of centralism over pro-federal sentiments. Again, Maliki very explicitly emphasised this contrast between himself as favouring control by Baghdad and ISCI as the party of radical decentralisation.

This seems like a positive step forward in terms of Iraqi politics. Although, it is worth pointing out that the primarily Shi'a south was still voting for a Shi'a candidate.  So, it's not as though sectarianism is dead.  It's also good to see an incumbent party get creamed.  In immature democracies incumbents often have such huge institutional advantages that this type of change in power is rare.  Then again, still important to remember that the non-incumbent party in this case was led by the sitting Prime Minister.  So, it is not quite the underdog story when an incumbent is surprised.

On the other hand the North and Center don't seem to be as promising.  Marc Lynch points out that Sunnis seemed to underachieve in Baghdad getting around 20% of the seats (This from a city that just a few years ago was 65% Sunni).  There is also still a great deal of tension in Anbar where the initial results had the IIP (The religious party) winning big and the some of the tribes threatening war in response.  It now appears that some of the tribal groups may have done better than initially reported and in fact defeated the IIP. The key question is whether all the players in Anbar will accept the election results or will this be the beginning of a new wave of intra-Sunni violence?


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